Nonprofit lets students flex their tech muscles


by JOE FRYER / KING 5 News

Posted on April 14, 2012 at 12:05 AM

Updated Saturday, Apr 14 at 10:06 AM

BELLEVUE, Wash. – Demand for talent in the technology industry is so great that some companies are offering six-figure salaries to college students before they even graduate.  

Seizing on that demand, a student-run non-profit in Bellevue, called StudentRND, is giving young people in high school and college a chance to get valuable hands-on experience.

“You can’t really learn everything you need to in a class or in a textbook,” said Edward Jiang, StudentRND’s CEO.  “You really have to learn by doing it.”

On Wednesdays and Saturdays, StudentRND provides students a 3500-square-foot workspace to flex their tech muscles. 

Adam Ryman, the organization’s chief technical officer, is using that time to take apart a 1980s vending machine so he can learn how it works, then rebuild it with a touch-screen display and other modern features. 

“This is the start of something cool,” Ryman said with a smile. 

Displays of creativity are found throughout the group’s headquarters.  Students rigged the front door so that it unlocks when their lighted ‘Open’ sign is on, but then locks when the sign is turned off.

On top of that, if the door is locked, students figured out a way to quickly unlock it by sending a Tweet to a special account set up just for the door.

“It’s a place for students to walk in, see what other students are working on, hang out or do their own thing on the side,” said Jiang, a junior studying computer science at the University of Washington.

StudentRND’s latest success is a product created by college student Marshall Meng, who created a plasma speaker, which uses a stream of electricity to play music. 

The students sold 280 of the speakers through a fund-raising website, which brought in more than $18,000 for StudentRND.  They put about $5,000 toward an industrial laser cutter, which will help them manufacture the speakers so they can quickly send them out.

“It’s very empowering,” Meng said. 

StudentRND is hosting a Code Day this Saturday.  Students will be able to pitch ideas, form teams and create a mobile app over the course of a 24-hour period. 

The organization will debut its new incubator program this summer, which will give students eight weeks to build a tech startup.  Students from across the country are expected to take part.  Applications are due May 15.  The program has drawn major sponsors, including Medtronic Foundation. 

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